The power of publicity- An overview of the Central African Conflict

I have been informing myself the last two months about the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, I had mostly took information from governmental sources, so for this interview I decided to take another approach and interview a person who has been on the ground and could give me a different point of view.

The one who accepted this difficult task was Narciso Rosa Berlanga, a UN official from the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), who has been working on different African countries, especially on the Central African Republic. We decided to focus our conversation in Central African Republic, as it was the country that he was more familiar with.

Ignacio Rosa in the Central frican republic supervising international troops

Ignacio Rosa in the Central frican republic in a mission of evaluation of the territory

To start with I asked him for an introduction to the Central African Republic, as many people don’t know anything about the country. He laughed a little bit with this question, and although I found his reaction strange I totally understand him later on as we will see.

The Central African Republic is a country very rich in natural resources, which has provoked an interest from other countries, Mr. Berlanga told me. In the last years the country has increase its natural instability due to the existence of two different religious groups, Muslims and Christians, as the former dictator, backed by the French government was overthrown by Seleka, and Islamic guerrilla, and his leader Jotoria became the president. However, they were not able to keep peace and shortly after a civil war broke up between Seleka and the supporters of the previous dictator. The international community pressured Jotoria’s government, and a transition government under the presidency of Katherine Samba Panza was established. However when the situation seemed stable, the worst episode came. Anti-Balaka, a Christian civil movement started to kill the Muslim population, accusing them of supporting the Seleka government. This rapidly degenerated into a religious conflict, which has not been resolved at the current date. As in most of the religious conflicts, the civil population has been especially affected, provoking a huge movement of the Muslim population into neighboring countries such as Chad and Cameroon.

Trying to lower the intensity of the conflict, the government tried to demobilize Seleka, by cantoning them in the capital and asking for a disarmament. They were partially successful, as the Seleka guerrilla agreed to cantoned in the cities, but they refused to disarm themselves. This  however left the anti-balaka movement without opposition, so they started to kill all the Muslim population, as well as all the Christians who didn’t support them. Although a peacekeeping force was sent by the African union to keep order, they fled away to protect their home countries from the destabilization of the Central African refugees, creating a lack of institutional power. After this the French government has strongly intervened in the country theoretically to build up peace between the two religious groups.

After this overview of the conflict we decided to talk about the job of OCHA here. They are in charge of raising funds, coordinating humanitarian help and trying to lower the intensity of the conflict. However they don’t have military means, so this operation is very difficult and often unsuccessful. They are also in charge of getting out the child’s who are currently taking part in the conflict and teaching them a job to allow them to live in a peaceful way.

Mr. Berlanga told me that the extermination of the Muslim population is reaching the levels of the Rwandan genocide, but despite of this, raising funds to stop it have been nearly impossible. Surprised, I asked him why it was so difficult to achieve help, he answered me by explaining ‘’the power of publicity’’ : some countries such as Syria and South Sudan are well publicized in the media, and whenever a humanitarian crisis occurs, there are in the opening place of all the newspapers, so gaining help is relatively easy. However, countries such as the Central African Republic are much less ‘’sexy’’, so they are systematically ignored by the mainstream media, so making governments aware of the seriousness of the issue.

To end with I asked him about his perspectives of the country. The future is not encouraging, and unless a strong action is taken fast the country will probably live a religious cleansing.

In his propaganda model Chomsky stated that the first filter for a notice is the property and the orientation of the media. When the owners of the main sources of information have businesses in the Central African Republic, can we expect reliable and not-biased information of the topic? If we don’t make an effort to look for different sources of information we might never be able to learn about the true nature of the conflicts around the world.

By Fernando Martin


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